Coping With High Expectations
Have you ever heard a coach describe an athlete by saying, “He has a lot of potential?”
When Phil Hughes, pitcher for the New York Yankees, was a rookie in 2007, he was considered by many as the future of the Yankees, a potential #1 or #2 starting pitcher.
Carrying the moniker of future “star” places high expectations upon an athlete.
Athletes can either rise to the level of others’ expectations or become overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed.
High expectations can cause athletes to focus on outcomes, diverting attention from relevant performance cues, such as an at-bat routine, that have produced success in the past. This future focus on outcomes creates anxiety leading to over-thinking and increased muscle tension.
This stress response detracts from optimal performance.
For Hughes, he has battled highs and lows throughout his seven year MLB career but has yet to reach the level set forth by the organization.
In 2007, Hughes, in his second start, took a no-hitter against Texas to the 6 inning before leaving the game with a hamstring injury. In 2009, Hughes impressed the organization with his performance as a set-up man in the bullpen being a pivotal contributor and helping the Yankees win the World Series. In 2010, Hughes earned his highest win total with an 18-win season as a starter.
Despite flashes of brilliance in the past, Hughes will be moved to the bullpen and miss his scheduled start against the Boston Red Sox this Saturday. Hughes has been struggling this season, with a 4-13 record and a 4.86 ERA.
Hughes talked about his struggles:
“It’s really frustrating. I’ve had a bad season up to this point… I have to keep grinding and fight my way out of this.”
In August, Hughes went 0-4 with a 6.46 ERA and is 1-9 with a 5.68 ERA at Yankee Stadium this season.
Joe Girardi, Yankees manager understands the peaks and valleys of performance,
“There are very few guys that roll through a career and not have struggles.”
Girardi knows there is a difference between merely making it and succeeding,
“The trick is not getting to the big leagues; the trick is staying and being successful. That’s the hard part.”
How can an athlete manage high expectations and increase the consistency throughout the season?
Coping with High Expectations:
- Take a risk – No one ever realized their potential by playing it safe.
- Challenge your need for perfection and high personal demands on your performance – Realize the best approach is merely to be better than yesterday. If you lose, learn from the experience. Dwelling on your mistakes teaches you nothing about what to do differently in the future.
- Work smarter, not harder – Working harder increases tension in the muscles preventing them from functioning optimally.
- Set small objectives to help you focus on the process – Being overly focused on the result creates anxiety and takes the athlete out of the present moment.
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